Beyond Sheikhs and Merchants: The Role of Balancing Powers in Pre-Independence Kuwaiti Politics (1921-1962)
Date: 18 April 2017
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
This study re-examines the history of constitutional development in Kuwait. It argues that existing scholarship on the subject suffers from several shortcomings due to the lack of consideration given to the role played by some important social forces on the Kuwaiti political scene. Most historians working on Kuwait’s modern politics ...
This study re-examines the history of constitutional development in Kuwait. It argues that existing scholarship on the subject suffers from several shortcomings due to the lack of consideration given to the role played by some important social forces on the Kuwaiti political scene. Most historians working on Kuwait’s modern politics have focussed on two forces: the ruling family and the merchants. Althoughthese two actors wereundeniably the most influential, other segments of society should not be overlooked. They had a decisive impact, with varying levels of influence across time, on the balance of power in Kuwait. This thesis thus generates new insights by considering the role of these segments of society which have played a key role in balancing the struggle between the sheikhs and the merchants over the nature of the political system in Kuwait between 1921 and 1962. These segments are termed “balancing powers” and include, among others, religious scholars, pearl divers, workers and intellectuals. These balancing powers were especially vocal in the debates preceding the 1962 constitution. The year 1921 was chosen as the starting point because it was the year of the establishment of Kuwait’s institutional and constitutional frameworks. In addition, it witnessed the birth of the first political institution in Kuwait: the 1921 Shura Council. The relation between the development of the balancing powers and Kuwaiti Constitutions since 1921 has been through three phases. The fist phase was the ‘balance’ between the ruler and the merchants, but without an obvious article giving the balancing powers their rights. The ‘control’ phase was in the 1938 Constitution, when members of the Legislative Council were given 3 the right of legislation for all segments of Kuwaiti society. The final phase was ‘empowerment’, which was a different stage because the balancing powers had the majority in the Constituent Assembly and they voted and agreed to adopt 1962 Constitution. This thesis employs an historical investigation of all information related to the topic through available documents manuscripts and interviews. In particular, it uses previously unexplored documents such as Kuwait Municipality documents and minutes of Kuwait’s Education Department in the 1950s.
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